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Minister's even-handed approach to Israel

Last updated: 2003-11-17

Baroness Symons, the Foreign Office Minister of State responsible for the Middle East, told Board leaders that the Government's even-handed approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians attracted criticisms from both sides: there were certainly no grounds to suggest that the British government's criticisms of Israel were unfair or unreasonable.

The Board group was led by President Henry Grunwald and comprised Vice Presidents Jerry Lewis and Flo Kaufmann and Director General Neville Nagler. They welcomed the Government's condemnation of recent antisemitic remarks by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, and expressed disappointment that not a single Muslim government or organisation had voiced its regrets. Mr Grunwald emphasised the link between events in the Middle East and antisemitic incidents on the streets of Europe. He welcomed the way in which UK ambassadors in the Middle East had been asked to impress upon their host governments the need to eradicate antisemitic incitement and hatred.

Lady Symons explained that whilst the government accepted the principle underlying Israel's building of a security fence, its location beyond the Green Line was of grave concern. She also felt that Israel had been wrong in trying to insist that representatives of Western governments should not meet with Yasser Arafat: this had played into the hands of enemies of the Peace Process. Lady Symons also explained the government's approach to voting on Middle East matters in the United Nations, where it was important to strive for balanced resolutions. During her recent visit to Israel, many people had said that they regarded Britain as Israel's best friend in Europe.

Following the meeting, Henry Grunwald comment: "This was a really valuable discussion. Lady Symons emphasised that the government's approach to Israel and the Palestinians was fair and balanced, thereby attracting criticisms from both parties. We for the most part remain convinced that Arafat is an obstacle to peace and should be completely sidelined: recent television documentaries have exposed how he has diverted funds for terrorism and how quickly terrorist attacks on Israel could stop if Arafat gave the order. We appreciate the government's stance towards antisemitism in the Arab world and elsewhere, and look forward to continuing our discussions with Lady Symons."